The Ultimate Guide to Test-Taking Hacks

Besides studying for a test, here are a few test-taking hacks to help you boost your performance on test day.

Flickr user Ryan McGilchrist

Whether you’re in high school or college, you’ll likely be taking a lot of tests during your educational career. And while studying well and often is definitely the best advice for how to perform well on a test, there are also some smaller, helpful bits of test-taking wisdom to keep in mind.

Read on to discover some test-taking hacks that you can use to help boost your performance on exam day.

Be Well-Rested & Have a Good Breakfast

The key to starting off the day is by having a good night’s sleep. Avoid the temptation of an all-nighter cramming session—those won’t really help you anyway. A well-rested mind is a sharper one, and you’ll be able to recall information much easier than if you’re sleepy.

They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day; well that might be doubly-true on test day. Avoid sugary foods or energy drinks—those will just give you a crash later on, and you don’t want “later” to be right in the middle of your test. It doesn’t have to be a big meal, of course, just one that keeps your stomach from growling during the exam and distracting yourself and those seated around you.

Arrive Early

Scrambling in at the last minute will only stress you out, so be sure to plan ahead and arrive early. This will give you extra time to gather your needed materials, review notes and information, and hear any special instructions the teacher might have about the test. You may even have the opportunity to ask questions before you begin.

Read Carefully & Pay Attention

In order to maximize your understanding of the question being asked, make sure you read carefully—and re-read! It’d be a shame to lose out on a handful of points because you selected all of the TRUE answers when it asked you to mark the FALSE ones, right? They won’t always capitalize or bold the main points of the question, so slow down and make sure you know what you’re answering and how to do it.

Pace Yourself

Before you begin, check out all the sections of the test (if you’re allowed to do so). Does it have a multiple choice section? A matching section? Short-answer? Essay? Different sections might take different amounts of time to complete. You don’t want to spend too much time on any one section and find yourself scribbling down half-guesses in order to finish on time.

Know how much time you have to take the exam, and then plan out your strategy. Maybe you know you need more time to craft an essay so you do that first, or push on through the multiple choice to get to it sooner. Don’t rush, by any means, but be mindful of the time. Some students even go as far as wearing a watch to time themselves.


When it comes to multiple choice, you can oftentimes boil the correct answer down to one or two options—but then what? For the most part, trust your first instinct. What’s your gut reaction? Go with that—because even if you don’t solidly remember that fact, some part of your brain is trying to wave you in the right direction. If you’re still unsure, mark that answer and move on, you can come back to it later. You don’t want to spend too much time debating on one question when you have many more to answer.

Essay Planning

Love them or hate them, you’re going to have to write some eventually. To make it easier on yourself, gather your thoughts before diving into the introduction. Jot down your main points and arguments you want to include in your essay—and refer back to them while writing. This will give you a direction to go in as well as a general guide. And if you’re in need of some extra points or reminders, try flipping back through the test—you might find inspiration in an earlier question.

Save Time at the End to Review

Circling back around to the whole “pace yourself” thing, make sure you leave yourself a little wiggle room at the end. Instead of just handing in the test and relaxing, take a few minutes to read over the test again and make sure your answers match up (I’m guilty of marking down the wrong bubble on occasion). This is also the time where you can go back to any questions you were unsure about—maybe your memory has since been jogged, or maybe you can use the rest of your time to debate between the answers before selecting one.

Worry About Yourself, Not Those Around You

If you hear pages flipping or see students getting up to hand their tests in before you’re even halfway done, don’t panic. Some students are just fast test-takers, others are slower-paced. Either one is fine as long as you read carefully, ponder each question, and review your answers at the end. You worry about you, not anyone else—because I guarantee you they’re all focused on their own work, too.

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